This article is written by producer, creator and radio creative, Andre Kunz. He writes in his personal capacity.
"Stories are how we find common ground" - Andre Kunz
Once upon a time in a land not so far away, radio people were grappling with the perceived threat of the Big Bad Wolf, “New Media” and the declining number of young listeners lost to the Wonderland of Spotify, SoundCloud, Deezer, YouTube and the like. Theories of how to combat the Big Bad Wolf are varied, but just like the fairy tales we all know and love, the yellow brick road to Gen Z can have a happy ending if we realise the unique advantage radio holds.
Research done by a worldwide management consulting firm in a recently published article states that “Generation Z value individual expression and avoid being labelled. They mobilize themselves for a variety of causes. They believe profoundly in the efficacy of dialogue to solve conflicts and improve the world”. With this kind of sophistication and new media a smartphone away, tighter links and music sweeps are not going to entice Gen Zs away from their playlists and social media to the radio. Research tells us that younger listeners have no appetite for advertising: "Generation Z doesn't readily trust a marketer's effort to sell them anything. They value trust, which is why they frequently seek out the opinions of their peers and consult user-generated review sites,” according to Sarah Sladek, CEO of management firm XYZ University. The thing is, radio used to be every teenager’s most trusted FRIEND.
Several contributing factors have led to the radio no longer being the trusted “friend” it used to be.
Personality - The radio industry in South Africa has not been proactive in nurturing talent. Young broadcasters often lack the basic radio skills needed to connect with the listener, which leads to dials being changed or the Spotify playlist being turned on. Experiments, with celebrities and comedians as broadcasters, have had mixed results, because the art of storytelling on radio is just that, an ART. Some get it, some don’t. Radio needs to nurture its own stars that understand the medium, understand their listener and understand how to tell a story on radio.
Music - New music is no longer the drawcard to radio it once was, as artists now release music on their own platforms, with no need for radio to promote them. Often the target market has the new release before the music manager has even realised the artist in question has a new release.
Promotion - As advertising budgets get diluted across an ever-increasing digital media landscape, the old school “buy your listener” with cash, cars and holidays approach, is no longer affordable nor effective. Gauging Return on Investment on radio has always been tougher to show advertisers. Click-throughs and page impressions are easier to measure, and the radio industry has suffered because many advertisers have thrown the baby out with the bath water, preferring a social media campaign over radio.
Content - The much spoken about and misunderstood part of any radio show has become a lost art form, with few who have any imagination creating compelling content for radio in South Africa.
So, what is radio’s unique advantage to entice Gen Z back? I think it’s storytelling. "They value trust, which is why they frequently seek out the opinions of their peers and consult user-generated review sites”. In other words, they listen to stories from people they trust before they make a purchasing decision. I am not suggesting that all programmers start production on radio dramas to replace their current offerings. The Mexican on a Bicycle analogy to describe a good radio link has at its centre “A short story to a friend”.
Stories that connect need not be long and laborious. A well thought out link, or back announcing a great song with a “Short story to friend” still has the power to capture the imagination. Much like the comparison between a movie and the book it was based on, most will tell you they enjoyed the book more. Why? Because the pictures are better! Radio can produce better pictures than Instagram and YouTube, by accessing the listener’s imagination.
Stories are how we find common ground. Stories are how we make friends. Stories can affect a purchasing decision. Stories connect us to the listener! Though artists can release music on their own, radio can connect the artists to the listener with stories in the form of interviews, thoughtful back and front announcing, and knowledge of the music and artist. Promotions can also benefit from some good storytelling, as radio already has the perfect tool to tell great stories: the listener’s imagination. The 30 second spot will be with us for a long while to come but augmented with a campaign that tells a good story it will be a lot more effective. This will also go a long way to solving the content problem, because good stories make great content, and great content attracts listeners.
So, if radio is to become relevant to Gen Z, we don’t need to market to them, we need to tell authentic stories so they come to trust us, we become their friend, and we can all live happily ever after.